What if you could revisit and download the questions you took during the UPCAT (University of the Philippines College Admission Test)? I received information that this will be a possibility. It’s not yet official though.
For some people including yours truly, these were the same set of questions that made and unmade dreams. Not all UPCAT takers make it. Only a small fraction pass the test. Some of the passers see it as a blessing. Some see it as fuel to keep working harder. Some see it as an entitlement: an instant membership to an elite group.
Whatever it is worth, the UPCAT is the primary gateway to the University of the Philippines, a scholastic community with a unique and celebrated tradition spanning more than a century. But take heed — none of its legacy would have been possible if not for the hard work of Filipino taxpayers.
But through the years, UP has faced various questions, ones more difficult to answer than that of the UPCAT.
In 2014, a haze of mystery shrouded the university involving an unreported hazing incident. For over a week, the newscast State of the Nation with Jessica Soho assigned me to work on a lead. It was about a student of UP Diliman who almost died after sustaining serious injuries due to initiation rites.
Details were elusive. But we knew the victim was a minor.
As courtesy to our sources, we could not reveal the name of the victim, the involved fraternity and even the hospital where the victim remained for a week to recover from his near-death experience. We needed to get direct confirmation from the parties involved. But no one would talk. It seemed like an urban legend.
Reportedly, the hazing incident in UP Diliman happened before the death of Guillo Cesar Servando, a freshman student of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde who also underwent fraternity hazing rites. Witness affidavits tagged members of the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity behind the incident.
A family member of the UP Diliman student expressed to one of our sources that the untimely demise of Servando could have been avoided — if only news on this earlier hazing incident found its way in mainstream media.
But why did it remain unreported? It was difficult to do such a story because it had no official police report. It is protocol for hospitals to report any suspicious injury or casualty to the police. The Quezon City Police Department received nothing. The family of the victim didn’t want to spill the beans too. They wanted their privacy; and they may also be afraid.
One of my sources asked me: was there a cover-up?
On July 4, 2014, we received confirmation that the hazing incident was not a product of our imagination. The family decided to cooperate with the authorities. UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan released an official statement confirming the involvement of Upsilon Sigma Phi — the same fraternity of President Ferdinand Marcos and Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.
“The family of the victim has authorized me to divulge the name of the fraternity and to say they will be taking formal legal action next week. They reiterate a request for privacy.” – UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan
In my news report, Popoy de Vera, a top-ranking UP official, assured the community that an investigation will take place. De Vera maintained that the membership of UP President Pascual to the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity will not affect the case. The next day, the University Student Council enforced a preventive suspension on three council members who are also Upsilonians. In an interview, USC Chair Arjay Mercado explained this move was not a penalty. It was only a means to ensure the impartiality of their institution.
If the family decides not to push through with their legal action, the USC can file a criminal case as a representative of the students. After three days of follow-up reports, the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity has not released any statement. This continues up to now. On July 8, 2014, UP President Alfredo Pascual broke his own silence with an online statement as well.
“Incidents of violence, done even for the noblest of reasons, have no place in UP. I hope this will be the last time that we shall hear of acts of violence that endanger the lives of our students and produce a climate of fear among the members of the university community and their families.” – UP President Alfredo Pascual
I don’t know how it feels like to belong in a fraternity. I’m not in a position to criticize or judge organizations with Greek letters. I can speak for myself though. When I was an undergraduate student of BA Broadcast Communication, my fratman professor invited me for dinner. It was a subtle recruitment pitch. I seriously considered joining a fraternity. The mere invitation somehow made me feel important.
Ultimately, I declined the dinner invitation. I learned one of my blockmates joined another fraternity a few days ago. After his hazing, his legs were so violet; Barney would have been so insecure. Hazing happened to my blockmate. It would have happened to me too if I joined. Who are we kidding here?
Some may scorn me for being afraid of pain. I couldn’t understand why I had to let strangers harm me. For what? If I had to endure all that pain to protect my son perhaps, I would do it willingly. But as it is, pain is the premium membership fee I had to pay to join an exclusive club.
The problem with UP is that its prestigious fraternities, sororities and organizations can innovate and start a trend by completely removing hazing out of the equation — but it’s not happening yet. I’m hoping it does, sooner than later. Change can only come from within.
Because of my follow-up reports in UP, I recently spent time in Quezon Hall and Vinzons Hall — two buildings on opposite polar ends of the UP Academic Oval: one for the administration, one for the student organizations. When I was a student I never ventured in these parts nor did I participate actively in school issues. I did attend a rally before but it was my first and last.
In 2003, my freshman year, our sociology professor inspired me to participate in a student protest in front of the Senate. It was against another budget cut for UP. I believed in the cause so I marched with them. One of the street leaders then was Atom Araullo.
It didn’t end well. The police dispersed us quite violently.
It has been more than a decade since that rally. Back then in 2003, my tuition was 300 pesos per unit. That’s about 6,000 pesos every semester, more or less. Still, the activists demanded more state subsidy and support for our tuition. Fast forward to 2014. The tuition is now 1,000 or 1,500 pesos per unit. Every semester, this amounts to at least 20,000 pesos or higher. If some students would stage a similar protest rally today and the administration gave them our old 2003 rate, I bet some of the new students will feel they scored a major victory.
But it’s not enough. I would always hear my activist friends say this: “Education is a right, not a privilege.”
I just discovered that the STFAP or Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program has been retired. In its place is the new STS or Socialized Tuition System. This new program aims to improve scholarship applications using digital technology. Before the start of a semester, every student must now fill up two online forms (instead of 14 printed documents during STFAP). The system will then assess what income bracket to put the student, depending on his or her financial status.
Bracket E is the lowest category. Students who end up here will pay no tuition. They will also get a monthly stipend. Bracket A is for students with above average family income. They will get no tuition discount. There are varying degrees of tuition discount in the middle brackets. But if you don’t fill up an online form in the first place, you will get an automated bracket. Likely, it’s Bracket A.
A student can appeal the assigned bracket. But in social media, many UP students expressed frustration about their bracket results. On June 30, 2014, #BracketAKaNa became a global trend in Twitter. On the surface, the hashtag may just be a collection of jokes and sarcastic quips. But it was the pulse of many UP students. Most believe the smallest hint of comfort was enough reason to get them to Bracket A.
UP is a premier state university. It is reasonable to expect greater subsidy from the government. Yet as of now, some students feel Bracket A is the norm and Bracket E is the exception. It should be the other way around. The problem with UP is that it is seemingly channeling its competitive fire to exceed the tuition of other private universities.
Things have changed in UP since I was a freshman in 2003. The Beach House closed its doors and rode off to the sunset already. The academic calendar has changed as well. The 1st Semester is now August-December from June-October. The 2nd Semester now runs from January-May instead of November-April. Summer classes are now June-July, no longer from May-June. I guess the sunflowers will have to bloom later than usual.
Some things have yet to change though: the culture of hazing and greater state subsidy are just two of many pressure points in the university. There may be problems in UP but I believe we shall not run out of reasons to be proud of the university. There will always be students and graduates who are committed to serve the people. I feel it’s really none of my business to write about UP. I lost touch with the university after I graduated in 2007.
But the problem with UP is that I left a part of me here. I cannot stop caring.
[Entry 31, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Bam Alegre is the founder of SubSelfie.com and writes from time to time as a guest contributor. He is a Senior News Correspondent for GMA News (2012), a news anchor for flash reports, and part of the team that won GMA News the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for the news coverage of super typhoon Yolanda (2013). Previously, he worked behind the scenes as a Segment Producer for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho and 24 Oras (2009-2012). BA Broadcast Communication 2007, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.